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Food and society

Sustainability Meets the Media World

In an information landscape where not enough space is dedicated to issues related to environmental sustainability and agriculture, issues that are near and dear to BCFN, the European Journalism Fund’s project stands out, offering research grants to the top European scientific journalists looking to work on projects which focus on this field. And, surprise, Italians make up the lion’s share. BCFN wanted to present what these individuals will be working on in the coming years.

A grant for quality investigative journalism dedicated to sustainable development: this is the objective of the Innovation in DeConfermavelopment Reporting Grant Programme (IDR) established by the European Journalism Center (EJC), a European non-profit organization that aims to provide grants to the top representatives from the media world working on projects that inform the general public about the ways in which the environmental and financial challenges of globalization and innovation are faced around the world.
A good investigative scientific journalist is no different from a researcher in social sectors,” states Ove Joanson, director of the Swedish Editors’ Association and chairman of the EJC directive. “However it’s unlikely that a newspaper can offer them sufficient compensation to carry out in-depth investigations, collect information, and develop these into a project. Funding for academic research is not accessible to them because in most cases journalists don’t have access to universities or research centres. This is where we come in, with a tender supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that offers each winner between €15,000 and €20,000.”

International Competition
This year’s 14 winners (from all over the world) presented projects which were innovative not only in terms of the topics they covered, but also in terms of the methods and ways in which the results would be shared. “At a time when journalists are facing major economic difficulty, our program wants to encourage them to go beyond the usual way of creating information, with the objective of establishing a precise agenda for the dissemination of news relating to the topic of sustainable development” continued Joanson.
In order to compete, candidates need more than just a good idea and an outline for their project: they must also be able to guarantee that a series of newspapers, online news outlets, or television news programs are interested in publishing or sharing the results of their investigation.

Italy in Pole Position
The best Italian scientific journalists, scarcely present with these topics in our own news outlets, make up the lion’s share of the winners of the EJC’s grants. With just one dissonant note: most of the news outlets interested in publishing their work are not Italian, but foreign.

This is the case for the team made up of Emanuele Bompan, Giada Connestari, Gianluca Cerere, and Riccardo Pravettoni, which won a grant of €21,000 to study the phenomenon of water grabbing which takes place in Ghana, Cambodia, India, Nepal, and Ethiopia. “The project explores the lack of sovereignty and the limited access to water in these areas, and illustrates the consequences which this problem has on the population, as well as both the positive and negative practices involved” reads the synopsis of the project.
Tommaso Chiavarino and Isacco Chiaf won €20,500 for “With bare hands – A full-immersion journey into the dismantling of ships”. Their investigation took place in Bangladesh and India and uses multimedia to explore the environmental and economic impact of the ship dismantling industry. Jacopo Pasotti in “A Handful of Shrimp” will study and illustrate the consequences of the exponential growth of shrimp farming and other seafood products for the industrial market on the coastal ecosystem of mangroves and will demonstrate the solutions used by communities in Indonesia to preserve their environment and their food industry. Monica Pelliccia, Daniela Frechero, Adelina Zarlenga, Andrea Lucio, and Jamie Mullick chose an even more innovative communication approach, proposing a multimedia graphic novel that explores the reduction in the bee population and the potential repercussions of this phenomenon on global food production.

A Seed Project
This year’s winners are not, however, the first Italians to have explored topics which are at the heart of BCFN’s mission. In 2014 Elisabetta Tola, Marco Montanari, Massimo Bassan, Giulia Rocco, Lisa Lazzarato, Francesca Conti, and Marco Boscolo won with their project SEEDversity – Nourishing the planet, cultivating diversity. “There is a growing movement of farmers and scientists in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East that promote an innovative, low-impact, and sustainable approach to agriculture: the shared preservation of seeds and plants, in which farmers aren’t only the final buyers of seeds selected by the industry, but are also true contributors to the process, working with scientists from the beginning. The project documents the changes in the lives of rural communities as a result of these developments.” The project was also given visibility within the Italy Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015 and was refinanced by the EJC in 2015 as well to allow for the gathering of information on seed banks around the world and the creation of interactive graphics. The audio and video materials are visible at the website. The maps generated by the journalism data experiment are available on this link.

BCFN’s Commitment
Even BCFN was questioned on the role of journalists in developing topics related to sustainable food production. During the course of the Youth Manifesto meeting in September 2015, Allison Aubrey, a journalist for the United States’ National Public Radio (one of the most serious stations in radio broadcasting), stated: “A lot of people out there don’t know that food waste exists and, in general, don’t know much about how food is produced and distributed or about the social impact created by these phenomenons. My role as a journalist is to introduce them to the issue and to provide them with solid examples of both good and bad practices.” For this reason one of the points of the Youth Manifesto refers precisely to journalists and institutes the Foodlitzer, an award that recognizes quality information on these issues.
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